Eighteen years ago on a solo trip to Kauai, I sat in the passenger seat of my new friend Tom's little old blue Toyota truck. He was in his 60s then, and deeply devoted to spiritual awareness in a way that had many people, including me, stand in admiration. We were headed to the hardware store for a tool he needed. Feeling like it was a privilege to be in his company, I turned to him and said, "It's an honor to be with you.
He paused, turned to me and said, "Darling?"
And I answered, "Yes?"
"We're family, right?" he asked.
"OK, then let's not play that game."
He was talking about the "special game." An ego game. The game where we make some people more special, more valuable, than ourselves or other people. Holier than thou, guru-esque, or the reverse: inferior, subpar, not worthy of admiration or attention. This simply isn't true in spirit, and he knew I would appreciate being reminded of that.
My ego was crushed; I felt like a dummy. But after about two minutes passed by, a massive sense of calm washed over me and I was exceptionally grateful for his willingness to be so bold and fierce in showing love.
It sure hit home. That was one of the last times I put someone on a pedestal.
Relapsing into ego's allure years later while dating a famous man, I made up that he was pretty darned hot-ticket-special until one day my coach's words finally hit home: "He doesn't have a corner on the market. The source is within you." An echo of Tom's message, profound wisdom, which I eventually took to heart.
I remember going to conferences where an influential, buzzingly brilliant someone would talk and I'd be riveted with inspiration, noticing the flock of audience members lining up after the speech, some with star-gazed eyes, beneath which I could sense an inner emptiness, an I'm-special-if-I-say-something-smart-and-they-like-me sort of daze. And I'd notice how complete it felt to just be inspired without needing to approach the person at the podium.
Putting someone on a pedestal or allowing someone else to put you on one --> same dance. A misperception of the innate equality of all beings, the fact that we are all completely loved and lovable, despite appearances or circumstances.
If we want to be at peace, we aren't meant to fall for appearances. We are meant to look beyond them.
I couldn't really relate to how Tom felt, with me putting him on a pedestal, until I felt somebody put me on one. A sense of being judged for my humanity had me feeling perplexed, and I could only make up that somehow I had unintentionally conveyed that I'm Miss Goody Two Shoes. I so am not. Just because Love is my religion and I have been vocal about this for many years doesn't mean I don't slip-up regularly, falling into ego thoughts of criticism, ignorance, depression, shame and frustration.
Being put on a pedestal means you will fall from one. While dramatic and exciting in a roller-coaster sort of way, it is far more peaceful to rest in the humility of accepting this human experience the best we can, and committing to the memory of who we really are, which is so strikingly beautiful and beyond our current awareness that a pedestal couldn't begin to hold it up.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.